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Education at SGIA Expo 2015

Five educational sessions you may have missed while walking the show floor.

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With 35 ticketed expo sessions, three trend zones, and six miscellaneous workshops and symposiums, plus a sold-out show floor, it’s safe to assume you didn’t catch all of the educational opportunities SGIA Expo 2015 had to offer. Luckily, the Big Picture staff was able to attend a few – from Wide Format 101 to two of the first-ever Dream Team panels – and we’ve highlighted them here.

Graphics Business Dream Team
Led by Brian Hart of Hart Consulting Services, wide-format business leaders shared their secrets for print business success. Pete Gallo of Vista Color Imaging, Ford Bowers of Miller Zell, Scott Crosby of Holland & Crosby, and Terry Corman of Firehouse urged attendees to track not only forecasted sales for top-20 clients, but also the total dollar figure for monthly quotes for everything under $50,000, as well as sales and work-in-progress on a daily basis. The takeaway? Finding new clients is nearly impossible; it pays to focus on retaining your core. That means tracking client retention – not just sales – as a performance metric.

And if the experts weren’t finding a fit for 3D just yet (at least not a profitable one), there was acknowledgement that wide-format margins are set to change. “Inexorably, slowly, margins are going to fall. Be ready for it,” Corman said. Panelists identified P-O-P projects as a final bastion of healthy margins in wide-format digital as the shift looms.

Chief among the threats and opportunities mentioned for PSPs was single-pass printing, simply because only heavily capitalized print businesses can afford it. Yet the opportunities with single pass, particularly speeds rivaling top-production screen printers, as well as the range of outputs, seems poised to lend shops who invest a sharp competitive edge.
 

Retail 2020
A panel of digital print gurus from Ann Inc. (think Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, and the like) discussed retail trends driving demand for digital printing, including omnichannel retailing, big data, demand for localized product offerings in-store, and corporations’ increased efforts toward social responsibility. This has boosted demand for store graphics, out-of-home advertising for retail, window clings, and visual merchandising displays. Ann Inc. marketing, operations, and print production managers told attendees that they chose printers who make their lives easier, offering regular status updates without prompting as well as streamlined communication.

“If you make our lives easier, we’ll work with you every single day,” said Kris Hentnik, senior print production manager. Where Hentnik’s team used to have six weeks to turn around a store interior, they now have three. That’s where quality control comes in. All too often, the Ann Inc. staffers said, they receive prints that don’t have a good color match with the original match print.

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When selecting print providers, Hentnik said, “past wins are important,” so be prepared to show case studies where you work stood out. No prior retail experience? Ann Inc. sometimes hires less experienced PSPs, particularly if they bid on multiple jobs with high-quality, consistent prototypes.

Other tips from the team included:
• Be transparent to schedule – tell retailers what you need to be successful from the start. Don’t overpromise.
• Watch quality control: Check color carefully before shipping. Typically, whichever prototype is shown to Ann Inc.’s leadership during a walkthrough is the vendor selected for the roll-out.
• Consider shipping: A beautiful, elegant, sophisticated print is worth nothing if it’s damaged during shipping. And untrained store employees must be able to easily work with the graphics, so keep it simple.
• Be proactive in suggesting sustainable substrates: Many retailers are part of corporate responsibility programs that reward such choices. If you can help achieve this goal, it will set you apart from your competition.
• Fabric graphics pose their own issues, particularly with color management and profiling. Just because you’re an ace with cardstock doesn’t mean you can expect similar results from fabric without experience or testing.
• When pitching your services, start with a digital prototype. It makes you look tech savvy and efficient.
• Don’t rename a manufacturer’s media, for example, in your prototype pitch. Retailers like Ann Inc. may already have media they prefer, so you don’t want to create any confusion about what you’re using.

Wide Format 101
Dan Marx, SGIA VP of markets and technologies, offered a few basics for beginners to kick off the session, but his advice should be well-heeded, even by industry veterans:
• “The end product defines the technology.” It may seem obvious at first, but it’s easy to become ensnared by fancy capabilities that don’t actually do what you need. Have a goal, and stick to it.
• Similarly, estimate your desired output speed before you go shopping for a printer. “The answer is not ‘as fast as possible.’”
• Specialty inks and media are top differentiation drivers in today’s market – and don’t rule out the possibility of in-house finishing.

Colormetrix CEO Jim Raffel followed with a 101 of color management, encouraging attendees to think of a color profile as a map. He touched on the science behind color perception, pointing out that not only does every person see color differently, but also that age, fatigue, memory, and adjacency can have huge effects on even the same individual’s perception. So, he says, invest in both a spectrophotometer and a light booth.

“If you have your ducks in a row,” he continued, “you don’t have to make color compromises.” But that means investing your time in the creation of custom profiles that consider factors such as your printer, media, ink, and environment – and taking the time at least once a day to verify that your color’s in order.

In the third segment, consultant David Goetter compiled a useful list of 10 considerations for every application:
1. Water moisture;
2. Light and UV exposure;
3. Thermal exposure;
4. Shipping and handling;
5. Lifespan;
6. Resolution;
7. Gravitational and structural;
8. Chemical exposure;
9. Aesthetics;
10. And cost.

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Goetter also reminded industry newbies and old-timers alike that “customers don’t buy features, they buy solutions. Tie the benefits of a product’s features to their need.”

Talk then turned to the pricing and selling of wide format with consultant David King, who insisted that first and foremost, PSPs must understand their own capabilities. You should be able to make a sale anytime, anywhere, by fully understanding the potential – and limitations – of your business. And, he added, having a printer that can run overnight, unattended, is often a crucial key for growth.

Exploring the Lucrative Opportunities of Interior Graphics
Interior graphics experts Jason Yard, Mactac; Roy Ritchie, Dreamscape; and Ken VanHorn, Mimaki, spoke on the “lucrative opportunities” of wall, window, and floor graphics.

Yard says the main benefit to exploring interior graphics is accessibility. Every building has floors, walls, and windows. With these applications, the graphics can repositionable, permanent, or removable. For Mactac, chalkboard and chalkable vinyl is trending, and floor graphics are their biggest growth segment.

The tricky part is in the testing and preparation, then the installation. With wall graphics, Yard says to always test compatibility because there are different types of walls (texture, finish, quality) and paints (low VOC, washable, quality). “Walls can hold a lot of dust, so make sure you wipe them down properly before adhesion,” he said. And when installing floor graphics, assess whether the area will have heavy foot traffic versus machine or vehicle traffic, and then look for durability in media options, plus use slip-resistant certified laminate.

Ritchie calls wallcoverings custom fashion for residential, retail, and hospitality markets. Commercial applications in digitally printed wallcoverings are a fast-growing segment in décor, they differentiate your business, and are profitable, he says. He also called the SGIA Expo floor the Wild Wild West. “Fast advances in technology – machinery and materials – mean new ideas every year,” said Ritchie.

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So, why turn to digital printing for interior graphics? The versatility, speed to market, and economical benefits, said VanHorn. And Mimaki isn’t just looking at windows, walls, and floors. Shops can turn to soft signage when offering interior décor options, such as digitally printed curtains.

Here’s what else is trending in interior décor graphics:
• Story walls or brand messages;
• Headboard graphics;
• Temporary window block outs during construction;
• Cut decals for store hours;
• Logos on athletics courts;
• Event/arena advertising;
• And tradeshow carpets (as we saw all over the SGIA Expo show floor).

Digital Textile Graphics Dream Team
Four industry experts – Michael Sanders, Pacific Coast Fabrics; Jonathan Read, ErgoSoft US; Ralph Terramagra, Mutoh America; and Nick Buettner, Arjowiggins – fielded questions on this burgeoning sector. In addition to hints that pigment inks are sure to change the industry in a big way, key takeaways included:
• Test, test, test. PSPs should set aside eight hours every week for process control – and write everything down.
• Choose your media wisely. A good banner fabric shouldn’t shrink more than 2 percent.
• Remote monitoring is a great feature. If you have the ability to print unattended, you can change your business in a big way – but your process has to be tight.
• Good support from your suppliers is a must.

Printed Electronics Symposium
During the Printed Electronics Symposium, a two-day program of educational sessions, Michael Burrows of DuPont spoke on screen printing, stretchable electronics, and smart clothing. While he feels as though direct electronic print to fabric is a current challenge, it is something DuPont is considering. What’s trending in the printed electronics world? Stretchable electronics for stress tests, athletics, and real time monitoring of babies.

Burrows pointed to a few printed electronics applications currently in the works:
• Smart clothing;
• Wearable electronics;
• Games, toys;
• Smart homes;
• And printed heat.

And Burrows pointed to some growing numbers regarding the number of printed electronic devices in use: There were 2 billion in 2006 and are 15 billion currently, with projections for 50 billion by 2020.
 

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